Plane & Pilot
Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Commitment To A Cessna 172B

Dream hot, work hard and make sure there’s money in the pot: The chronicle of a 40-year path to the perfect C-172B

Commitment To A Cessna 172BThere are those seeds, like Jack’s, that explode overnight into giant beanstalks. And there are those, indigenous to certain biospheres, that only germinate when exposed to fire and, so, possibly wait for years to grow.


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Flash forward three decades to 1997. At last free and clear financially, an older, wiser version of that fresh-faced A&P took a flight one day in the Piper Archer he co-owned with friends.

“I landed in Hamilton, N.Y. Before long, a 1961 Cessna 172B came in, with a farmer flying it.”

The bird didn’t quite have hay hanging from the wheels, but from its appearance, it was clearly a working plane. It was also identical to the brand-new plane Petrus had seen three decades ago, right down to the silver paint with black trim.

Petrus chatted up the owner and found out that the man, as farming folk are wont to do, performed all his own repair work. “He even put auto parts in it, including a voltage regulator from a ’49 Ford!”

But it was readily apparent to Petrus’s A&P-trained eye that the airplane was in excellent structural condition, with about 1,900 hours total time.

“The fella thought he might sell it in a few months. I gave him my number, went home and forgot about it.”

One day, six months later, the phone rang. It was the farmer. He was ready to sell.

Petrus rolled across the snowy March countryside to the farmer’s spread in Ticonderoga, N.Y. “I spent six hours going through the plane. The flight logs were a mess. Engine was at TBO, and he’d replaced it with a 700-hour mill. A local A&P vouched for the plane. I bought it, the original engine and a prop for $20,500.”

As a kitchen dish rag will do when placed too near a stove burner, the seed that had smoldered inside Petrus for so long, at last, burst into flame. Instead of flying the 172B and working on it piecemeal, “before long, I had about every single nut and bolt out of it.”

With his son Andy and good friend Gerry to help, the conflagration raged in a rented hangar space at Oswego County Airport. “We worked almost every weekend for a year.”

Once the 172B was in good flying condition, the flames had spread from Petrus’s medulla oblongata to the frontal lobes. “I decided I wanted a modern panel in it, including a nice center radio stack. So I cut the whole panel out and bought a conversion kit from Avion Research in Sunnyvale, California []. They give you all the sheet metal, you fit the instruments in and tell them where you want the holes, then they cut and drill everything for you.”

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